This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I’m just back from the weekend’s Dickens Festival that’s held each February to celebrate Charles Dickens’ birthday in Riverside, CA. For the past 4 years I’ve been in the fashion show, and most of the time I’ve worn two outfits. This year due to having come down with stomach flu the week before, I had to cut it back to just the one.
Due to another change in the venue location, this turned out to be even a better decision on my part as the fashion show was staged inside a large tent and our dressing room, a smaller tent, was quite small. But physically I don’t know if I could have handled changing in and out of dresses either, as my energy level was extremely low. All in all, it was a better choice for me this year.

I spent a couple days hand tacking the fabric ribbons to my bonnet and basted in the pleated white lining on the inside. Since the inside wasn’t going to show, for right now I left the very bottom open and will later stitch a round piece of the fabric inside to finish it. Then I tacked my vintage brown and aqua leaves about the crown. I first thought of having them stand up as you see on many period bonnets like this but just ended up having them tilt up in various places. Sometimes you have to let your bonnet speak to you while you’re working on it. I use straight pins to hold them in place, just sticking them straight down into the bonnet until I’m ready to sew. That way I can move them as I go if I don’t like where they are. You just have to be careful not to poke yourself as you sew, which I guarantee you will as I do.  
I finished up my bonnet on Thursday evening and was able to have a leisurely day making sure I had everything I needed before leaving Saturday morning. I just drive up in my costume and hubby was able to hook up my dress before I left. On arrival at my hotel instead of stopping at a mirror to put my bonnet on, I parked my car, got out and put it on- with no mirror. So it was tilted a bit too far forward but you got a good view of the top of it. The next day, with it in its proper position, you can see the underside of it.

I always have to share the “oops” parts of my outfits, and one was my belt. The gown has a slightly lower waistline, which is marked by the piping, and my belt  wanted to ride up to my waistline that my corset gives me. But when I get time I’ll be putting some belt loops on it, hopefully invisible since I don’t think they used them, and it will stay in place. 

I spent a good part of the day finding a bench to sit on and rest to conserve energy but did march in the Characters Parade through the event. We’re separated into different Dickens book catagories and carried signs of the character we are. At the end of it “Mr. Charles Dickens” introduces and describes each of our characters to the crowd. On Saturday I was part of “Hard Times” and the next day I was with “Great Expectations”. Here we are lining up ready to start our parade.

Later in the afternoon we headed over to the tent to start the fashion show. Our models sat outside in the back waiting to go on. The theme for the show was Women of Dickens World so we portrayed either women in his life or his books. I was Miss Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield.

On Sunday we repeated the show again with a few changes in the line-up. I believe there was a total of 17 outfits modeled with just a couple ladies having to change into another one.

I was very happy with my antique lace pelerine. I had it pinned at the neckline and during the fashion show I was able to lift it open to show the pleating across the front of my bodice. I had both a corded petticoat and a tiered ruffled petticoat on under my skirt but the ruffled one is kind of limp so I think it needs a stiffer fabric than the one I used. But I still had a nice fullness to my skirt. I wore my watch chain and pocket watch with it stuck under my belt. During this time period I haven’t found any evidence of the ladies having a pocket but mine kept sliding down past my belt. So I think I’m going to do one of my famous “fudgies” and put a little pocket on the backside of my belt to slip it into.

Being inside the tent, a smaller venue than the previous auditorium, there wasn’t any space for all of us to come out at the end of the show for people to take photos of us. So we went outside and lined up for them. When they came out, cameras began popping up, and many came running over to take closer looks at the details. I think everyone enjoyed that! The cars in the background weren’t so great but all the greenery was.
This is from Saturday.
And these are from Sunday’s show. 

This is one of my favorite souvenirs from the festival. A young lady apparently was sitting across the walkway while my friend April and I were seated on a bench for a while. She came over and showed us this quickly drawn ink sketch she’d done of us. I asked if I could buy it from her so here is my favorite “photo”. I hope she continues with this idea because I think it would be a wonderful addition to this event and to any costumer’s album. 
*Josephine Roberts/ website-  and on Facebook - 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My 1830s Bonnet for Cranberry

I’m down to the 5 days before the Dickens Festival in Riverside and had to re-group on my plans for finishing two costumes for the fashion show. I came down with stomach flu last week and I've lost 5 days of any sewing progress at all. On the bright side I’ve lost 5 lbs too. So maybe I can use that as a benefit and keep it going.
With the deadline this close I know I can’t finish Persimmon and have it look how I wanted. It still needs 13 bows made to go down the front of it. And some kind of decorative button in the middle of each that I haven’t even started shopping for. So I gathered my forces and re-grouped.
The Final Plan is to just wear Cranberry as my character in the fashion show of Miss Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield. I did the last finishes on it, like that hook & eye I needed at the waist.  I seem to put those off until suddenly a safety pin magically appears to finish it. So all that’s left is to trim my bonnet, and do something with the belt.  
Yesterday I managed to finally drag myself into my sewing room and seriously started thinking of how I would trim my straw bonnet. I had this as an idea for trimming it. I liked the big bow in front and I will have curls. Due to my time limits I may only have the one bow in front but would like to add some on the side and the undersides that you can see in the painting. Ok, now I’ve talked myself into putting the ones on the underside so I have some color around my face. I may need it. 
I purchased this straw bonnet form from Austentation  for $28.
I have antique white faux silk taffeta to pleat inside the bonnet but couldn’t decide what color for the outside. I thought I could use a matching ribbon but it was too pale. I dug around in my stash some more and came up with two pieces of silk taffeta, one being a turquoise that would have been fabulous but was a measly piece and could only make a bow. I wanted to wrap it around the crown, make a big foofy bow, and then it needed tie ribbons. So the only other choice was an aqua silk taffeta I had left over from a previous gown. I had about a yard and scraps from it. When I photograph it, it’s much darker and doesn’t look like a good match for the dress but it’s actually lighter and anyway I didn’t want it to match the dress exactly. There’s going to be an antique white lace pelerine between it and the dress too, with the cranberry belt below that. 

I started thinking about the flowers to go with it and remembered some vintage millinery light brown leaves I had that had a touch of the same color as the aqua on it. This photo shows the paler aqua that it is.
I tore three lengths of the aqua in 2 1/2 inch widths and used a pair of scalloped scissors to cut a bit along the sides of them.
This is the first time I’ve used these scissors. They’re made in Japan of stainless steel, no brand name, and were a bit dull after cutting one 36” length. I think I bought them at a sewing supply store in the Garment District. Not happy. They’re not paper cutting scissors either. I already got rid of those when I realized that but these are meant for fabric. So good luck with that. I’m not even sure scalloped ones can be sharpened. When I was done, I just trimmed some little hangey bits with my thread nippers. *Note-I made up a new word there-hangey*
I started by draping the ribbon around the crown starting at the back. I used glass balled straight pins to hold it in place as I worked. After crossing over the front, I gently tied a knot in it.  

Then I pulled it up and over the top and down the back where I crisscrossed them and folded the ends under my bonnet. All of this is held in place while I do tacking stitches on it to hold everything down.
 The bow is a normal tennis shoe style tied bow but I made an extra loop that I basted onto the back of it. This will all be covered at the bottom so it doesn’t need to be fancy.
I placed the leaves on it and now it all comes together, and is just the right accent to my darker dress.      
Now comes the tedious part: pleating the white silk for the underside. I’ve found out I’m better at eyeballing the pleats rather than trying to mark it exactly and then try pleating them correctly.
So that’s on the game plan for the next couple days. I run out of energy after a few hours so that’s the best I can do for now.
And Chloe has been taking good care of me when I’m resting.

Friday, February 7, 2014


This is a “Procrastination Post”. I’m marking all three hems on my 1830s dresses and need to break up the boredom. Two of them need to be finished in two weeks for the Dickens Festival fashion show, and I still have a turban and bonnet to do. And belts! Ack! I just remembered those!

I’m sharing a theatre trick that I was shown by one of our costume guild members, who works in the San Diego Opera as their costumer.
The majority of the time I have to mark my hems by myself. And I realized I kept putting it off until it was absolutely the last minute. I was never sure if it was going to work or be even. I sometimes had a neighbor mark my hem but I hated to inconvenience her. These are floor length gowns so she’s not as familiar with them and it was hard for her to get down on the ground to mark them.
Enter Margaret. She’s worked for a long time in the theatre and I’ve learned bits and bobs from her over the years. But this particular tip has stuck with me.
I have a dress form that’s set pretty close to my height with an extra bit for heels. I lined up both my waist line and shoulder line to it. Most important I learned is it HAS to have all the underpinnings on it along with the dress to mark it properly. Big petticoats pull the skirt length up more than you think.
So here’s the trick: have the hem marked level with the ground. She used safety pins so they would stay in longer, but regular pins can work. Then you turn up the edge to the height off the ground that you like your hems. Usually about 1-2” but can be more depending on the time period you’re wearing.
You can have someone else do this on you or like in my case, put it on a dress form. And to make it even easier for me, I put my dress form up on top of my sewing table. 
Without pulling the skirt down and crushing the petticoats, line the bottom to the table level (or floor) and mark it with pins. I straighten it lightly with the flats of my hand.
With this pointer, you can see where I placed my pins.
All I needed to do now is turn it up to the length I want and then hem it. My preference is hand-hemming simply because I find it relaxing, but I do have a blind hem foot for my machine and have done that a couple times.
“Procrastination Post” over. Back to work. Ooh, its lunchtime.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


This is a quickie post. I just had to share my light bulb moment.
Did you ever look at a picture of an extant gown and wonder how the heck they put that gorgeous gathering/smocking on a dress? I would ask myself how did they keep it from stretching and hold its shape, and be able to close it?
This past weekend while at a sewing workshop, I was trying to work out how to do the Truly Victorian #454, an 1845 German Day dress. I don’t need this dress till June but I wanted to have my muslin made ahead of time. The bodice has gathers or smocking, whichever you want to do, at the bottom of the center insert and the excess fabric is gently gathered up into the neckline. 
I fumbled with it and got my gathers nice and even, and then noticed the duplicate center front panel pattern piece without gathers, so it was narrower. I am supposed to sew my gathered piece on top of it just like you would flat lining, and it becomes one piece. My photo shows the top piece has been gathered, and after gathering it in to the same size as the flat center front panel, I’ve pinned them as one piece & stitch them together. Then you sew the side panels to it, and voila!
So that’s how they do it! This may open a whole new world of trim ideas for me.